UB back in 'MACtion' against Kent State

The Bulls host division-rival Kent State on Tuesday night on ESPNU

Jon Simon
November 05, 2018 - 1:30 pm

Photo: Paul Hokanson - UBBulls.com

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The UB Bulls (8-1, 5-0) are back on national television this week for another “MACtion” weeknight night game on ESPNU. The Bulls will host Kent State (2-7, 1-4) on Tuesday night at UB Stadium with a chance to do something that’s never been done in program history - win nine games in an FBS season.

Not only would a win over the Golden Flashes give UB their first nine-win season since becoming a Division I program in 1999, it would also mark the first time the Bulls ever started a season 9-1. UB would also be 6-0 in the MAC for the first time in program history with a victory on Tuesday night.

Last Tuesday’s game at UB Stadium was an absolute shootout between the Bulls and the Miami (OH) Red Hawks. The Bulls were able to come out with a 51-42 victory, but it wasn’t a perfect win by any means.

“The positive of course was the ability to answer scores with scores,” Bulls head coach Lance Leipold said at his press conference last Friday. “We scored before the half, which helped since we received second half kick. It kind of plays out the way you hoped when you defer a coin toss, and we were able to get the two touchdown lead.”

UB almost gave the game back to Miami in the third quarter, after the Red Hawks scored a touchdown they recovered an onside kick and later tied the game. Luckily for the Bulls, the offense was able to put them back in front in the fourth quarter and the defense was able to seal the game with a crucial fumble recovery with two minutes to go.

“Defensively I know compared to the way we’ve been playing, statistically it wasn’t everything we wanted but we got some key stops when we needed to,” Leipold said. “We didn’t play very well on special teams, at all. It’s not too often that you lose a surprise onside and have a punt blocked and come out with a win. For us to keep progressing we need to be better in all phases and we’ll start addressing that.”

A big positive for UB from the Miami game was that Anthony Johnson appears to be back to 100-percent health after dealing with a leg injury for the past month. The senior receiver recorded eight catches and two touchdowns against the Red Hawks; he also set the school record for receiving yards in a single game with 238.

“A.J. was frustrated that he wasn’t able to do the things he knows he is capable of doing,” Leipold said. “Once he started clearing that out of his head going into the Toledo game, you saw his body language change and his confidence change. Now, he’s gone out these last few weeks and really played well. When you see him playing well with confidence, you start seeing the type of player he is.”

While the Bulls have one key player back in Johnson, they’ll be without one of their biggest contributors for the first half against Kent State. Khalil Hodge is suspended for the first half of Tuesday night’s game after he was ejected from the Miami game for targeting. Hodge, who has been the Bulls' leading tackler in almost every game this season, is just 13 tackles away from reaching 400 for his career at UB.

“[Losing Hodge for a half] is a big blow,” said Leipold. “But, those are the rules and Matt Otwinowski has been a solid backup. The great thing about Matt is he’s one of the more prepared players in our program. He’s highly reliable, doesn’t get a lot of action, but plays a lot of special teams; and he’s going to get an opportunity.”

Along with Otwinowski, another player that will have to step up in Hodge’s absence is line backer James Patterson. The true freshman made a big play last week, recovering the fumble forced by Kadofi Wright to seal the win for the Bulls. However, Patterson has been a solid player for UB this season long before his big fumble recovery.

“Because of Khalil’s success we probably haven’t talked enough about the consistency in which James has played as a true freshman,” Leipold explained. “He’s mature beyond his years, just in how he handles himself on a daily basis. He and Jaret [Patterson] (James’ twin brother) are very passionate young men and go about things the right way.”

One thing Leipold has talked about all year is how well the players on this team have handled success this season and how they’ve gone about everything the right way.

Some teams in UB’s position may tend to overlook a team like Kent State, but the Bulls know there is a target on their backs. They’ve been the team with a losing record in these matchups before, and they know Kent State would love to spoil the run UB has been on.

“Anybody in our league can beat anybody,” Leipold said. “They have a new staff, new offense and defensive schemes. Now that we’re in the last third of the season, those players are more comfortable with what they’ve been doing and more confident, that makes a team like this extremely dangerous.”

Bulls quarterback Tyree Jackson could potentially have another big game against Kent State. The Golden Flashes rank last in the MAC in passing defense and Jackson is coming off of a game where he account for six touchdowns (three passing and three rushing), earning him the MAC East Offensive Player of the Week award.

Tuesday night’s game will also be senior night as it is the Bulls last home game of the season. Throughout the fall, Coach Leipold has talked about how much this senior class has meant to the program and how much time they’ve put in to get the team to where it is now; surely it’ll be a bit emotional when they walk out of UB stadium for the last time.

“I feel good now that with eight wins, we’ll be getting a 13th game,” Leipold said. “That [bowl game] to me is like another senior day, but this will be their last game here. For any player that’s gone through that in their career, you try to soak it in, but it doesn’t hit you until the next year when you’re not there. So, we want to make it special, it’s a game they’ll remember.”

As far as having a chance to make history and set the school record for wins in an FBS season, Leipold said he hasn’t thought about it too much. He believes that thinking about accomplishments and things similar to that can be a distraction from things that still need to be done. But, Leipold does know that this season has made a big impact on the program, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“One of the nicest things is that all of the former head coaches in UB’s FBS history have reached out, and for that I thank them,” Leipold said. “Because they helped lay this foundation and they went through the growing pains; and for them it shows their class and professionalism and that they’re still keeping an eye on this program.”

Tuesday night’s kickoff time is set for 7:30 p.m. from UB Stadium. You can listen to the full game, along with pre-game and post-game coverage on ESPN 1520.

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